While engineers in Japan are working towards utilizing the massive vortex of wind and rain that typhoons bring and convert them into electricity, other engineers are looking at another solution not to replicate the wide destruction that typhoons leave behind – reduce the number of typhoons that nature will make as less as possible.
Geoengineers are taking this route as a backup plan to the worldwide cutting of greenhouse gas emissions to curb climate change. But since the damages have come near the temperature threshold and the world is yet to provide a comprehensive plan to reduce its carbon footprint, it appears that the solution might already be too late or it might no longer be as effective.
In a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, geoengineers described their plan to stop the hurricanes. They plan to pump sulfate gases in to the planet’s upper atmosphere in order to cool down the oceans enough and cut the number of big typhoons in half over the next 50 years. To accomplish this, it requires 10 billion tons of sulfates, which is tens or hundreds of times the sulfates a typical volcanic eruption can form.
Why sulfates? Because they block out some wavelengths of light. Pumping them into the atmosphere could provide a giant pair of sunglasses for the Earth, which should bring the overall temperature of the oceans down.
And this has already been proven to work at some point. The researchers wrote in the paper, “The explosive volcanic eruptions of Katmai (Alaska, June 1912) and El Chichon (Mexico, April 1982) preferentially loaded the Northern Hemisphere with aerosol, and they were followed by the least active hurricane season on record in 1914 and the least active hurricane season in the satellite observation period in 1983.”
However, doing this purposely might be difficult due to the difference in temperatures of the oceans. The right balance should be achieved, the researchers note, since a cooler Atlantic means more intense Pacific hurricanes, and a cooler Pacific means more intense Atlantic hurricanes.
When it comes to cost, John Moore, lead author of the paper, said that this is relatively cheaper than pushing the cutting of greenhouse gases. The 10 billion tons of sulfate which will be pumped into the atmosphere every year would cost $10 billion annually, he estimates.
But like any other engineering solutions, there are certain drawbacks. And this one is big: pumping that much sulfate into the atmosphere would poke holes in the protective ozone layer surrounding the Earth. Which we cannot really afford, since the ozone is our protection from the harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun.
The model can still work. However, the problem now is how to mimic the shading property of sulfates without using the chemical itself. For that, engineers are now working on a mix of gases as an alternative.
This article was originally published on GineersNow in April 2017 when I was an editor there. All information are preserved and any changes on the studies stated are not updated in this version. New photos are inserted to become relevant as of posting.